The ideas in this paper, Ten simple rules for socially responsible science, ought to be explicitly spelled out in any grad program, especially since many of the incentives in science careers tend to oppose their rules. Read the whole thing, but here are a few of my comments on their list.
Rule 1: Get diverse perspectives early on
Some people seem to believe in the myth of the lone genius who comes up with brilliant ideas and executes them…and then gets a Nobel prize. It doesn’t work that way. Ever. It’s totally collaborative. In my classes I literally force students to work in teams in the lab, and there are always a few students who insist on going it alone. That’s missing the point!
Rule 2: Understand the limits of your design with regard to your claims
It’s tempting to go too far and make extravagant justifications for your work. Studying spiders will lead to a cure for cancer! Not really, but it would be a big boost to getting grant money if it were true.
Rule 3: Incorporate underlying social theory and historical contexts
I’ve experienced this unfortunate attitude that the only work that matters is stuff that’s been published in the last five years. I’ve had students ask me if it was OK to cite a paper from 1991 in their thesis project. Yeah? Why not? I cited papers from the 19th century in my PhD thesis! Dig deep, go interdisciplinary, drink from the Pierian spring, it’ll make your work better.
Rule 4: Be transparent about your hypothesis and analyses
Obviously. An experiment is not a fishing expedition.
Rule 5: Report your results and limitations accurately and transparently
Uh-oh. It’s shocking that we have to spell that out.
Rule 6: Choose your terminology carefully
This is about jargon. I’ve written a few things where I’ve totally lost people because they don’t know what I’m talking about. It’s also very common for me to make lots of comments in first drafts of student papers that they need to spell out that acronym and need to explain their terminology.
Rule 7: Seek a rigorous review and editorial processes
It’s common to see resentment at reviewer comments, and sometimes they are wrong…but you have to try and see it as a process to improve your work. That’s hard, though, especially if you’ve got a job that only cares about the volume of papers pumped out. Administrators do not read your work for quality.
Rule 8: Play an active role in ensuring correct interpretations of your results
That’s a good idea. Science isn’t fire-and-forget, a paper is a long-term commitment to a set of ideas that may need defending. Also, to be honest, few people will actually read your paper — your bigger audience is the people who come to your public talks or hear your interview on NPR or read the blog post summarizing it.
Rule 9: Address criticism from peers and the general public with respect
Awww, do we have to? Yes. That “peer” specifier is critical, though: I’m not going to treat creationists, anti-vaxxers, or climate change deniers kindly.
Rule 10: When all else fails, consider submitting a correction or a self-retraction
You’d have to do that less often if you heed #1, #5, #7, and #8, especially #7.
Most of the web advice I see about how to be a good scientist involves basic personal attributes: curiousity, observational skills, quantitative measurements, etc., and all that is true, but you don’t see much about all the essential aspects of being a cooperative community member. Maybe if we spent more time on that in early education we’d have fewer sociopaths.
Nah, there’s no cure.